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Labor fibs on freight rail no fix for north-west Victorians

Victorian Nationals

The Andrews Labor Government’s fooling no-one today with an outrageous claim it’s made Victoria’s freight rail “safer, faster and easier” to get Victorian food and fibre to port.

Misguided Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne made the statement in a press release today, coming as the Labor Government has botched the Murray Basin Rail Project so badly that north-west stakeholders say trains now take five hours longer to get to port.

Leader of The Nationals Peter Walsh condemned Labor’s mismanagement, saying longer travel times and a lower maximum axle loading was dragging down productivity and profitability.

“Labor’s decision to install century-old track on the Basin Rail network and to leave it a mess of standard and broad-gauge lines means it’s now harder – not easier – to get Victorian food and fibre from north-west Victoria to the port at Melbourne,” Mr Walsh said.

“Stakeholders tell us that freight trains are taking five hours longer to make a trip because of the problems with Labor’s botched mismanagement of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

“The Basin Rail is crucial for transport of fruit and vegetables, wine, grain and mineral sands from the Sunraysia and Mallee regions down to markets in Melbourne and across the world.

“Finishing it – in full – is the only way to deliver safer, faster and easier access to the port and also take thousands of truck movements off our crumbling country roads.”

The Nationals and Liberals in Federal Government dug deep to get this Project back on track, providing a further $200 million in December 2020 to fix the botch job by Minister for Excuses Jacinta Allan.

But the future of the Project still hangs in the balance because the Victorian Labor Government has refused to contribute a $5 million share for planning work to begin.

“Only a change of government in November will deliver a fair share for regional Victorians and a positive plan to recover and rebuild our state,” Mr Walsh said.


The Murray Basin Rail Project has gone from being from fully-scoped, with an injection of $440 million to deliver it, to now – under the Andrews Labor Government and Minister for Excuses Jacinta Allan – being more than five years overdue, out-of-money and in such a mess that $10 million is needed just to plan to fix Labor’s mistakes.

A timeline of the Government’s botched mismanagement of the project is below.

5 May 2014: The Victorian Government says a business case into standardising the freight network from Mildura to Geelong will be completed by the end of the year. The Murray Basin Rail Project will convert existing broad-gauge tracks to a standard gauge, bringing rail networks in Victoria’s west into line with key freight networks across the country.

17 August 2015: [GOVERNMENT MEDIA RELEASE] The Andrews Labor Government today committed to the biggest upgrade to regional rail freight in decades – the full Murray Basin Rail Project – which will standardise and upgrade the entire Murray Basin rail network.

17 August 2015: The state government has committed to completing the Murray Basin Rail Project. Premier Daniel Andrews, alongside Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan and Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford, announced the standardisation and upgrade of the entire freight network at Maryborough on Monday.

30 May 2018: The State Government has rejected opposition claims work on the Murray Basin Rail project has been derailed. The opposition claimed Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan had been caught out in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearing and forced to admit the upgrade had ground to a halt.

15 June 2018: V/Line’s poor performance in delivering $440 million of Murray Basin rail upgrades has forced the Victorian Government to pull the regional rail operator off the project and cancel contracts.

28 August 2019: The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project has left Victoria’s grain belt with a slower network, with only half the lines upgraded and standardised. The five-stage project has run out of funding with less than half the work completed. Rail freight operators say they’ve been left with a mismatch of upgraded broad-gauge and dilapidated narrower standard-gauge lines that is worse than when the project started. Victoria’s Rail Freight Alliance said trains were averaging 36km/h along the “upgraded” Mildura line, which is rated at 80km/h for most of its distance.

12 September 2019: The head of Australia’s largest private rail freight operator, Pacific National, has expressed concerns century-old steel is being used on the troubled Murray Basin Rail project. PN chief executive Dean Dalla Valle says rail track, dating from 1912, was repurposed, before being laid on new concrete sleepers and ballast, between Maryborough and Ararat. “Unfortunately, to date, execution of the Murray Basin Rail Project has been poor – government runs the risk of taking its eyes off the prize,” Mr Dalla Valle said.

16 December 2022: The federal government has committed $200.2 million to get work started on the revised Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP). The funding also includes $5m for planning for the full standardisation of the Victorian freight network, an aim dropped from the revised business case, of which an executive summary was released in October. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said work would include remediating the network after the early stages were left incomplete.

13 May 2022: Growers, local councils and the Rail Freight Alliance (RFA) are calling on the Victorian Government to urgently reinvestigate plans for the troubled Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) which they say is pushing more freight on to trucks and away from the rail network. Initially marked with a completion date in 2018, the Victorian Auditor General in September 2021 found the MBRP was both behind schedule by five years, and over budget by a massive $368 million. This is on top of the Victorian Government early last year announcing a major re-scope of the project which removed plans to standardise the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines.

30 March 2022: The state opposition and Rail Freight Alliance have ridiculed the state government’s claims the troubled Murray Basin Rail Project is ‘ahead of schedule’. Transport Infrastructure minister Jacinta Allan says upgrades to the project are ahead of schedule, with crews recently completing 109 kilometres of re-sleepering and ballast installation.

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